Regional Reviews: Seattle
A Crowd Pleasing Singin' in the Rain
Few film musical scripts have weathered the years as well as Betty Comden and Adolph Green's treatment of Singin' in the Rain. It places the Nacio Herb Brown and Arthur Freed songbook comfortably within the context of the late 1920s rise of talking pictures and the demise of silent screen actors, whose voices didn't match their screen personas. The obligatory love story between vaudeville hoofer turned silent screen icon Don Lockwood and chorine Kathy Selden plays second fiddle to the comic antics of Don's film paramour Lina Lamont, a vamp with a shrill, piercing voice that will surely end her film career. Spunky Kathy is enlisted to dub Lina's voice in her talkie debut, and Lina is all for making the arrangement permanent. But this is not Sondheim folks, and a happy ending prevails for all but poor Lina.
The stage script is such a transcription of the film that no one is even listed as having written a book, and all the film's numbers are preserved - plus a few additions, including a welcome comic lament for Lamont. Michael Gruber as Don Lockwood has a mellow voice, an amiable demeanor and stamina to carry the heaviest dance load of the principals. All that's missing from his lively (and wet) re-creation of the famous title song are the wide-screen close-ups afforded the original film star (and co-director/choreographer) Gene Kelly. Michael Arnold as Don's raffish sidekick Cosmo Brown takes a more fey approach than the late, great Donald O'Connor, and like Gruber he has the right stuff to sell the choreography. The zany "Moses Supposes" tongue twister routine for the pair (with a comic assist from Stewart Gregory as a fluttery diction teacher) is an especially swell moment in act one. Christina Saffran Ashford is a shade too poised and mature as Kathy, but she pairs well with Gruber in the romantic ballads "You Are My Lucky Star" and "You Were Meant for Me," and joins Gruber and Arnold for a rousing "Good Morning." But the biggest splash in this production is Seattle favorite Lisa Estridge as loudmouthed Lina Lamont. Estridge's estimable comic timing and high-energy cascade across the footlights, and she makes Lina likable in spite of her deluded behavior. Thanks to Rocco's staging and Grey's way with a song, her comic solo "What's Wrong with Me?" is a gem. Would this brassy, sassy African-American talent have had a role like this at M-G-M. No way, just ask Lena Horne. Thankfully in that respect at least, the modern age beats the "golden age" by a mile.
Gamely supporting the four principals are Anthony Curry's humorously harried film director, Suzy Hunt doing game double duet as a Hedda Hopper-like gossip columnist and as Lina's frustrated speech coach, and Richard Sanders as the wimpy movie studio head. Rocco has recreated the film's "Broadway Ballet" to a fare thee well, with a special nod to soloists Maya RS Perkins and Krissy Richmond (who pays sexy homage to Cyd Charisse).
Greg Barnes and Lynda Salsbury's costumes are garishly colored delights, and Michael Anania's set designs seem to have been lifted right off of celluloid. Musical director/conductor Jeff Rizzo and his accomplished musicians give the score more than its due. And yes, it does rain, quite a lot and fairly effectively. Those in the rows nearest the stage, beware!.
Singin' in the Rain runs through March 5, 2005 at the 5th Avenue Theatre, 1308 5th Avenue in downtown Seattle. For more information visit the 5th online at www.5thavenuetheatre.org.
- David-Edward Hughes